American Children Die Because of Easy Access to Guns
February 11, 2005
The News Tribune - By Heidi Yewman
Imagine if you heard that improperly buckled child car seats had killed 71 preschoolers in a single year – more than the 56 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2002.
You might think, “Boy, we need to do something to make sure preschool kids are buckled in safely.” And you’d be right.
Well, 71 preschoolers did die in 2002 – not from improperly fitted car seats, but from guns, according to a Children’s Defense Fund survey released in January.
In 1979, preschooler Laura Lamb became a quadriplegic when a drunk driver ploughed into her mother’s car at 120 mph. A year later 13-year-old Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver who already had two drunken driving convictions and a third that was plea-bargained. Enraged, the girls’ mothers formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It took 13 years, but eventually the public became less tolerant of drunk driving and more supportive of stiffer penalties.
On Jan. 25, the state Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a Child Access Prevention bill that would hold an owner criminally liable if a child obtains access to an improperly stored and loaded gun. Eighteen states that have similar CAP laws have experienced significant decreases in accidental deaths of children.
It’s an interesting paradox. Today we can’t drive drunk but in 32 states we can leave loaded guns in reach of kids almost without penalty. The results are predictable and tragic. In South Carolina, a three-year-old boy unintentionally shot and killed himself with a loaded gun he found in the home. In Georgia, a 10-year-old boy unintentionally shot and killed his 13-year-old friend with a high-powered hunting rifle.
We hear a lot about the rights of gun owners – and I respect the rights of gun owners. But we forget about the victims of gun violence even when eight kids are killed every day with guns.
I’ve had people tell me, “Well some of those kids are gang members,” as if gang members don’t have mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who love them. But it’s not just gang members that are being killed with guns. In fact, 2,867 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2002 – a rate 12 times higher than in 25 other industrialized nations combined.
Of course, both sides of this issue have buckets full of statistics. But statistics only paint part of the picture. I talked to a man whose 12-year-old daughter was shot in the head because a neighbor’s gun was left accessible. As he drove to the hospital his mind raced, “How can something like this happen? Will I ever speak to her again? Where did this gun come from?
What if I never see her alive again?”
He told me, “The day kind of went dark. It’s the only way I can explain what I went through. It’s like it just changed. It was horrible.”
We can argue back and forth over statistics. Guns kill 12 kids a day. But what matters, what has to matter is that no one deserves the pain and anguish that comes from incidents like these – not parents of gang members; not parents of toddlers; not any parents.
Preventable tragedies happen. But as a society we learn from them, we evolve and we fix them. We no longer let kids sit on their parents’ laps in the front seats of cars; they have to be in car seats. It’s no longer socially acceptable to drive drunk; you can go to prison. One day we’ll refuse to allow kids easy access to loaded, unlocked guns; one day that will become socially unacceptable, too. One day.
But until that day, it’s likely 71 preschoolers will die this year.
Heidi Yewman is the President of the Clark County Million Mom March Chapter and is writing a book about the victims of gun violence.